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October 2013


A Case to Ponder from the Professional Ethics Committee


The Case


Dr. Smith is a probationary hire on a campus that has historically been known as an agricultural school.  In his private life, Dr. Smith is a dedicated vegan and animal rights activist but in his capacity as a professor he works hard to present unbiased and objective perspectives in all of his class and especially in his Environmental Policy class.  During the State election, there is a proposition on the ballot that requires banning the use of feedlots for cattle.  Dr. Smith decides that this is a perfect "real world" issue to present to his class. While Dr. Smith is privately delighted about the possibility of Proposition C passing, he wants to ensure that all sides of the policy are objectively and fairly presented.  He invites several experts who represent different sides of Prop C to come to class.  Dr Smith's chair, Dr. Jones, gets wind of this plan and leaves the following note in Dr. Smith's mailbox:


Dear Dr. Smith,

I hope you're doing well.  I've heard that you plan to discuss Prop C in class and that you've invited, amongst others, a representative of PETA to your class.  Do you think this is a good idea?  After all, our agricultural programs (which are very popular) use gestational crates.  Do you really want the students to be told that something we're doing on campus is wrong? 

See you at the next faculty meeting!

Dr. Jones


Who is acting inappropriately in this case?



The Upshot


First, the Union contract has guidelines to regulate such behavior:  "The Board and AFT shall strive to promote a collegial and non-hostile work place for all district employees" (Article V, p. 3)


Second, the Pierce College Faculty Code of Ethics advises faculty to respect academic freedom, professional judgment, and the free exchange of ideas (Sections III, IV, and V.)


Finally, LACCD Board Rules, Chapter 1, Article II has much language requiring faculty to recognize that their primary goal qua employees of the district is to be a scholar and an educator.  Consistent with that goal is the obligation to respect the opinions and pedagogical practices of others.